Thirteen years ago I began examining my work with young people. I’d been in the field working with children and youth in all kinds of ways since I was 14 years old, and at 25 I was ready to explore some of my experiences and what I thought I knew.
I was introduced to the Paulo Freire’s idea about conscientization by my ex-wife’s father, an education professor at a local college. Freire’s radicalism was challenging for me at first, until I began to see the kids I grew up around and worked with reflected in his writing. I began to see his laser-like way of seeing as brilliant when I realized that he seemed to understand the shitty realities of kids in the hood who learned about the ways the world contradicted itself. When we began to see that the cops who were there to protect us were actually hurting us, Freire named that. As we started experiencing the schooling system as a road to prison instead of wealth, Freire examined that. The adults, the money, the drugs and violence, churches, prostitutes, and hard-working parents in our worlds seemed too busy, too fucked up, and too removed to understand what they were looking at; Freire gave us language.
One of the words he taught me was conscientization, which is the awakening of the senses I described above. When we develop our critical conscience, we gain the ability to push aside the so-called realities others shove down our throats. Through commitment and passion, we can develop our abilities to see the meanings of things and change those meanings. This lets us redefine our lives. Our world gets bigger as we can take apart and put back together the life we live and the places, spaces, ideas, and knowledge we live with. We can reflect more purposefully, and we can see things more rationally. The roles we ever played as the passive recipients of other peoples’ perceptions of the world melt away, and we become active partners within our own world.
Thirteen years ago, conscientization allowed me to extrapolate the meaning of my life’s work and understand the critical perspective I carried with me throughout my career. I began to examine the assumptions I had about the work of youth development, and saw the critical necessity of re-envisioning the roles of young people throughout society. My powers grew a lot.
Today, the enchantment I had my career has worn away. The tyranny of time, exposure, experience, and knowledge has revealed itself to me and I have conquered it; instead of running away, I’ve shown up again and again to struggle, defeat, get defeated, and re-imagine the life I’ve lived and the work I thought I’d done. All along there was inspiration and joy, suffering and toil. All along I was enchanted.
I was enchanted by myself and the myth I lived about my own life. I was enchanted by the systems I worked in and the people I worked with. I was enchanted by love, falling in love, being in love, loving another, and feeling loved in return. The enchantments went on and on, all the while powering my power and feeding my inability to see truth in its mightiest forms.
The enchantment played a major and wonderful role for me too, and this is no remorseful expose, either. Instead, it’s my attempt to honor my own work. As Guy Kawasaki recently explained, “The greater the difficulty of the change, the greater the need for enchantment. Factors that cause friction include expense, risk, and ‘politics.’ If a change is a big deal, then it’s a big deal to make it happen.” I thought I had a “big deal” kind of life, and my enchantment led me there.
Now, conscientization has lead me through the mist of my enchantment towards reality. I’m still uncovering the truth, but in the meantime I will reveal that I began this journey just over a year ago when I began writing my personal engagement teachings. It’s continued along the way, and I’ve discovered a lot. But I have a lot further to go.
Come with me. Develop your own critical consciousness and let’s learn together. There’s liberation upon liberation to be had, and while partners aren’t required, they can be useful and good to have along.